For nearly two decades, Upper Iowa University science faculty and students have conducted prescribed burns and research projects to preserve one of the few remaining virgin prairie ecosystems in northeast Iowa. Located northwest of Hawkeye, UIU’s Pleggenkuhle Prairie serves as an outdoor classroom to the University’s Ecology, Wildlife Management, and BIO 496 (Senior Project) students. General Biology majors, the UIU Science and Environment Club, and Conservation Management, Environmental Science and Life Science Plant Emphasis student volunteers also continue to be involved.
Codie LaGrange, a senior conservation management major, is among the students who have benefited from working at the Pleggenkuhle Prairie. LaGrange has already attained employment as a lab technician/assistant coordinator at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“The Pleggenkuhle Prairie, itself, has provided me real-life experiences in land management above and below the ground,” he said. “Each of these UIU sites are great for education, research and recreation. The knowledge that I have gained from working on these UIU field sites has provided me the confidence I need in real-world applications.”
In addition, the Lone Tree, Iowa, native expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to work alongside UIU Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jennifer Stoffel and Professor of Science/Robert L. Fox Chair of Science Dr. Scott Figdore. He credits the hands-on experiences he gained while in the field with the faculty members for helping him attain the skills required for employment.
“The amount of knowledge I gained surveying and identifying plants with Dr. Figdore is incredible,” LaGrange explained. “It is a great feeling to have someone ask you the name of a type of grass or flower and you can quickly reply with an answer. This was definitely a lifelong learning experience.
“I really enjoyed clearing some of the trees and helping restore historical species that are on the site with Dr. Stoffel,” he added with a smile. “Any time that I get
a chance to operate a chainsaw, I am going to do it.”
Figdore and Stoffel received a $1,034 Iowa Native Plant Society (INPS) Grant to provide students with funding to travel to and conduct invasive and woody species management at Pleggenkuhle Prairie, while under the faculty members’ supervision. The grant also helped provide funding for additional personal protective equipment for students.
“I was very fortunate to be able to volunteer my time to work side by side with such great students through this summer and fall,” Stoffel said.” I enjoy helping students link ecological principles to real life considerations to be made when developing and implementing a land management plan. Having the opportunity to have students work on a prairie remnant in addition to our other reconstructed prairies allows me to help them understand the limits of each management technique. I am grateful to INPS for helping us find resources to manage this great instructional resource.”
Stoffel noted that LaGrange’s chainsaw experience was especially valuable in helping to manage the property. Joshua Crosbie, a senior from Fayette, Iowa, and Ryan Roth, a senior from Cedar Falls, Iowa, were instrumental in the management of the property as well. Meanwhile, UIU senior Kaitlin Teff of Ossian, Iowa, has been a key contributor to documenting approximately 90 plant species at the three-acre site. Junior Nick Houg of Fayette, Iowa, who is similarly passionate about land management, also volunteered at the site several times.
“A visit to Pleggenkuhle Prairie allows students to step back in time and see the wonderful array of plant species typical of Iowa’s tallgrass prairie heritage,” Figdore said. “Kaitlin’s senior project has involved collecting and preserving plant samples from Pleggenkuhle Prairie for UIU’s herbarium, which will provide a historic record of the species growing in the prairie for future generations.”
LaGrange actually earned an associate degree in parks and natural resources at Kirkwood Community College before transferring to Upper Iowa. The Lone Tree, Iowa, native noted most of his Kirkwood credits easily transferred to UIU, which allowed him to achieve his desired degree in two more years of education.
“One thing for certain is that UIU professors care about the students,” LaGrange closed. “The relationships that I have built with the faculty are probably what I will remember most about attending the University. These relationships have allowed me to understand the sciences in a way that I can better communicate and collaborate with others about our precious natural resources.”